Tesla’s push into supercomputers, potentially worth $500 billion in added market value, just suffered a big blow after its chief departs

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Tesla’s Dojo supercomputer project lead Ganesh Venkataramanan has left the company, according to people familiar with the matter, a setback to the automaker’s self-driving technology efforts.

Venkataramanan, who has led the Dojo project for the last five years, departed the EV maker last month, the people said, asking not to be identified discussing confidential information. Peter Bannon, a former Apple Inc. executive and director at Tesla for the last seven years, is now leading the project.

Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk and representatives for the company didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. 

The Dojo system is a Tesla-designed supercomputer made to train the machine learning models behind the EV maker’s self-driving systems. The computer takes in data captured by vehicles and processes it rapidly to improve the company’s algorithms. Analysts have said Dojo could be a key competitive advantage, and earlier this year Morgan Stanley estimated it could add $500 billion to Tesla’s value.

Musk has said the carmaker plans to invest more than $1 billion on Project Dojo by the end of 2024. The Tesla leader first shared plans for the supercomputer in 2019 before formally announcing it in 2021.

Dojo is powered by a custom D1 chip designed by Venkataramanan, Bannon and a slew of other big names from the silicon industry. Venkataramanan previously worked at Advanced Micro Devices Inc., while Tesla has several other veterans from the chip designer on staff. The recently departed executive set up Tesla’s AI hardware and silicon teams in 2016.

In recent weeks, Tesla also installed hardware for Dojo at a centralized location in Palo Alto, California, two of the people said. Dojo has relied on multiple data centers in different locations. 

As of Wednesday, Venkataramanan was no longer appearing in Tesla’s internal directories, one of the people said. At least one other member of the group has also left. The reason behind the departures couldn’t immediately be learned, but they pose a blow to the expensive and technologically advanced project. 

Tesla previously relied on supercomputers from Nvidia Corp. to power its AI-based systems, while Dojo would compete with offerings from Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. and IBM. In July, Tesla said it started production of the Dojo supercomputer system. It’s being manufactured by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Ltd., the same builder of chips that Apple uses.

Last year, another key artificial intelligence player from Tesla departed: Andrej Karpathy, who led AI efforts at the carmaker. Karpathy has since joined OpenAI. 

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